We are not Aging, We Are Just “Over The Hill”01.11.2021
Take a look in the mirror. What do you see there? There are lines around your eyes and mouth. The hair is not as thick as it used to be. The eyes are not as clear. Congratulations! You’ve made it this far. Your cells are doing the same thing they always did. They are breaking down. What’s the deal?
The west, where experience and sagacity are not easily linked with age, will tell you that there is plenty to be proud of. Media, Hollywood, fashion and the multibillion-dollar grooming industry as well as an even larger advertising industry, tend to glorify youth and denigrate older people. This is something we all know. Maybe because we are afraid of dying, but we all fall for cultural brainwashing that makes us feel increasingly irrelevant. This explains why cosmetic surgery is so popular among twenty-somethings.
It’s no surprise that older people are often portrayed inaccurately as if they belong to a largely conservative, safe-playing species. The older age is often portrayed in a way that tugs at the heartstrings, or suggests some kind of exceptionalism. “Look at this guy! He’s 102 but still skydives!”
Consider how many birthday cards past a certain age are often comradery, not celebratory. You are not exchanging intellectual ability for physical prowess. You are just ‘over-the hill’. At best you’re a ‘silver fox’. Take a look at the way we are able to talk about intimate matters that were forbidden a generation ago, such as sexuality. But, strangely, we can still not talk about our age without feeling awkward.
Ageism, like racism and sexism, has been gaining attention in recent years. It’s right. We reinforce negative attitudes about age. This is easy to see if we imagine that language regarding age could be swapped for skin colour or religion. This is also right for you, no matter how young you are, as ageism will be a prejudice that you will experience. It’s actually the only prejudice that we will all experience. It’s the only one that is so pervasive it can’t be taken seriously.
This is not surprising, considering that 70% of global spending is made by over-60s, a fact business is beginning to realize. The facts are not as stereotypical as it seems. For example, over 60s make up the fastest-growing market in smartphones, social media, and internet services. They are the fastest-growing group on dating websites. They are financially more risk-averse than the younger generation. They are becoming more common – in five years, one-in-four US workers will be over 55.
However, studies repeatedly show that older workers are less likely to be hired by employers. Hollywood is notoriously ageist. Actresses’ earnings peak at 34. Silicon Valley, however, is a progressive industry. Mark Zuckerberg said that young people are smarter than older ones. Facebook, which prohibits discriminatory hate speech and does not allow the targeting of people based upon ethnicity, religion, gender, or nationality, has been accused of allowing age-discriminatory advertisements. IBM was also sued by older people to lay off, and Google was forced into a $11 million settlement with 200 job-seekers over 40 who applied for jobs at the company.
Ageism is a problem in all industries. According to the American Association of Retired People’s survey, a majority of those over 45 have been affected or know of any age discrimination at work. Although it is difficult to prove, this discrimination can have serious consequences. A new study has shown that the odds of someone over 50 losing their job and earning the same salary at their next job is virtually zero.
Why? Ashton Applewhite, an ageism activist and author of “This Chair Rocks”: A Manifesto against Ageism”, stated that the narrative is that ageing at all is in some ways to fail. That is because it has been long seen as a commercially profitable narrative: If ageing is presented as a problem, then we can be lured into buying products that ‘fix’ it. Basically, our attitudes towards old age have been distorted. She says, “But we can un-make these attitudes.”
She and other experts in the field are calling for a type of consciousness raising, both among those who view others as older than themselves, and those who see them as sexless, unable, or without value. As one way to combat ageist views, some are trying to increase intergenerational contact. Since 2016, the World Health Organisation has been trying to understand how thinking older negatively impacts health. For example, it is possible to reduce cognitive abilities by treating older people in a way that makes them less capable, such as in the language they use and how we talk to them.
Parallel to the recent shift in attitudes towards people with disabilities – and the key to that was a clear declaration of freedom from discrimination on disability as a fundamental human rights, set into international legal – some believe the same will be necessary to combat ageism. This will demand that politicians, even those who are ‘elder statemen’, apply pressure.
There are also mega-trends which will drive change. The demographics are in the right direction. Not only is there more people over 60 than ever before, but also advances in nutrition and health-awareness mean that we will live longer and more active lives. One-fifth the world’s population will reach 60 by 2050.
You can imagine that advertisers, brands, and businesses would shift their focus away from youth, even though they have been thinking about older people as a form of contamination for 60 years. Some major corporations are changing their pitch in order to not lose a sale. As ageism campaigners point out, those who work in advertising agencies are often younger and have no idea what it’s like being older. They don’t understand that people who live more than they used to, or who feel the inside of themselves as much now as they did 30 years ago, still love, laugh, love and play, and have as much hope for the future.
This phenomenon will be more prominent in you than it was for others: your interests, activities, and dress style are becoming less and less relevant to your age group. You will appear more “age neutral”. Your children will overlap with you. This is a good thing. However, there are still many things to do before we can abandon our ill-founded assumptions regarding older people.